After the American election

Read the responses to the spiked debate.

Brendan O'Neill

Brendan O'Neill
chief political writer

Topics USA

Read the responses to the spiked debate:

  • Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn

    In the 1972 presidential election, Nixon trounced the anti-war McGovern so badly that McGovern took only one state. When the Watergate scandal ensued, eventually implicating Nixon himself, a bumper sticker read: ‘Don’t blame me. I’m from Massachusetts.’

    Massachusetts – the Massachusetts that lost so many lives in the 9/11 attacks – took such a beating from Bush in this year’s pre-election debates (Bush-style debating being nearly all ad hominem) that one must conclude a major consequence of Bush’s re-election will be a continuation of the politics of division. Dissent and disagreement, no. The administration has radically challenged customary civil liberties and threatened freedom of expression. The politics of division, yes.

    A remarkably large number of Americans voted for Kerry, delivering a clarion call for change. Voters questioned an administration that has once again mired us in an unpopular and possibly unwinnable war, sanctioned job outsourcing through its support of multinational corporations, delivered unprecedented tax cuts to the wealthy, departed radically from our traditions of multilateral diplomacy and wartime cooperation, rolled back hard-won laws and policies in realms such as the environment and nuclear proliferation, and placed our basic civil liberties in peril. Bush’s reelection brings, at the very least, disappointment for roughly half of the polity. Every indication is that they will transform that disappointment into new energy for reform.

    But any new reform thrust needs broader horizons than what was possible in campaign rhetoric. On the issues of war in Iraq, healthcare and jobs, the Kerry-Edwards ticket displayed greater humanity and gravitas, while the Bush-Cheney campaign hid the complexities of these issues beneath a veil of simplistic moralism. Many voters seem to have voted for Bush on the moral issues of abortion and stem-cell research, issues which Kerry in turn simplified. Bush’s ‘culture of life’ argument is important and compelling, so much so that Americans would be much better off indeed if his policies did not so often seem to run counter to such a notion. It is precisely this call for humanity, after all, that drove so many Kerry supporters to question the Iraq war.

    A Kerry win would not have solved the agonising problems we face, but at the very least it would have registered many Americans’ alarm about the current path we are on regarding so many different realms. One of the best things to come out of this election – if indeed it does – is that it is now apparent to more people that Bush and the far-right hardly have the monopoly on morality they claim to have. The Kerry-Edwards campaign began a long overdue process of reclaiming moral ground for democrats, without which their vision has faltered in recent years. A reinvigorated and reengaged Democratic Party is vital for our polity.

    Discussions of the current polarisation in the nation nearly always blame partisanship. At its best, however, the nation cannot just withstand sharp left-right disagreement, as it showed in this campaign, but also benefit from them. No one political party or group can escape the confines of its worldview to give us the answers we need to vexing public issues or the larger vision we achieve at our best as citizens. Unity comes not from coerced uniformity or pressured consent, nor will it somehow spring naturally forth from repeated whines about partisanship. It is based, in a free and open society, on open dissent, lively engagement, and civil attempts to persuade. What we seem to lack the most in these trying times is that rare sensibility that combines openness to new evidence and persuasion with gentle firmness on matters of shared principle. In the social and cultural upheavals of the twentieth century, we have somewhere lost sight of our public philosophy – or perhaps we never did have it clearly enough in focus.

    The effect of the current election could well be further division in the country. If we are not careful, we will need a new bumper on our vehicles, one that wraps around the whole body of the car. This may soon be necessary both to protect us from ourselves and to accommodate a new bumper sticker: ‘Don’t blame me. I’m from Massachusetts, Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Washington, Oregon, California, Hawaii, or the District of Columbia.’

    Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn is associate professor of history at Syracuse University and author of Race Experts: How Racial Etiquette, Sensitivity Training and New Age Therapy Hijacked the Civil Rights Revolution.

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  • Paul Campos

    Some observations….

    One thing that is being overlooked in all the typical post-game over-interpretation of what was in many ways a largely random outcome: If the unemployment rate in Ohio had been two points worse, and/or if John Kerry possessed more charisma than the average toaster oven, Kerry would have been elected despite losing the popular vote by three and half million ballots. A margin of 65,000 Ohio votes, when compared to the 120,000,000 that were cast in the election as a whole, is essentially nothing – and that’s all you would have to flip to change the outcome. And the problems with America’s antiquated electoral college system are just going to get worse, as campaigns become more sophisticated about figuring out how to capture the marginal votes that make all the difference in such a system.

    The gay rights issue is a gold mine for politicians like Bush, and will become even more of one if America’s federal courts start ‘discovering’ same-sex constitutional rights, as they did in regard to abortion. Republican politicians can posture endlessly about abortion, because they know nothing they do will actually lead to any serious curtailment of abortion rights, so they never have to pay the political price for their (purely theoretical) opposition. A similar dynamic is likely to play out in the context of gay rights.

    John Edwards has a better chance of being the next Democratic nominee than Hillary Clinton. Edwards is basically Bush in Democratic drag, and it’s become obvious that at present the ideal presidential candidate is a moderate, telegenic Southerner. Or, in Bush’s case, a pseudo-moderate, telegenic pseudo-Southerner. As for Hillary, I find it hard to believe that the Democrats will nominate another Ivy League liberal any time soon.

    Paul Campos is professor of law at the University of Colorado and author of The Obesity Myth: Why America’s Obsession With Weight is Hazardous to Your Health.

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  • John Brignell

    An interesting election for number watchers! First and foremost, the pollsters emerge with egg on their faces, yet again. Not only was the result not the knife-edge that had the lawyers drooling over dreams of even fatter fees, the exit polls were allocating victory to the wrong candidate. When will they (or, more importantly, their customers) learn? People do not necessarily tell the truth to surveyors, and a distinguishable subset, such as early voters, are not representative of the whole population.

    Pathetic attempts at intervention by some Brits also foundered. The Lancet (how are the mighty fallen) weighed in with a typical bit of extreme epidemiology. From a non-result (RR = 1.5, 95% CI 1.1-2.3) they performed a direct extrapolation to produce a virtual body count of 100,000 in Iraq – totally unjustifiable, but they did not have to undergo an election to prove them wrong. The Guardianistas launched a direct appeal to individual electors in Clark County. Only they could have the arrogant gall to think that such action could produce anything but a determination to do exactly the opposite.

    Another group that foundered were the omen watchers. The Times (London) reminded us of a few of the old favourites: ‘Since 1936, the result of the Washington Redskins’ last home game before a presidential election had been a guide to the result. If the Redskins won, so, too, did the president; if they lost, the president lost as well. Last week, the Redskins lost 28-14 to the Green Bay Packers…. Before yesterday no president who won his first election with a minority of the popular vote had ever been re-elected. No incumbent had won a second term when the Dow Jones fell by more than 0.5 per cent in the previous October. A president whose father also held the post had never won a second term.’

    As to the future, a victory for conservative Christianity over liberal eco-theology should lead to interesting times. Now that Vladimir Putin has cynically signed up to the Kyoto economic suicide pact, in the full knowledge that it is scientifically unsupportable and as a result of crude horse-trading with the EU, the US economy will be granted a considerable advantage over its rivals. Mind you, it will need every bit of it in the light of the debt and deficit policies of the recent past.

    John Brignell edits the
    NumberWatch website and is author of The Epidemiologists: Have They Got Scares For You.
  • To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

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